Monday, June 22, 2009

Narrow Halls of Pages

It's been many years since I've visited my local library and actually borrowed books (I have been there on a rare occasion to browse and to donate books, but it doesn't seem like a real visit when you leave empty-handed). The library within walking distance from my apartment is the same library I used to walk to more than a decade ago, and visiting seems to call back a ghost of my former self. I enter and can feel some smaller part of me wisp off and eagerly head towards the sections I haunted as a girl, curling up on the floor while eyeing the worn spines and deciding which book to slip off the shelf and into the lap first.

My library card is the very same as the one I carried in those visits, and I'm always a little embarrassed to show it to the librarian. The "signature" in the strip across the front is surely on of my firsts and I can imagine that I wielded the ballpoint pen in my fist like a crayon. It's amazing that all of the lettering was fairly contained in the designated area, but I realize that I've been drawing almost all of my life so I think perhaps I had more manual dexterity than others in my age group. I dusted off that card, metaphorically speaking, and paid the $11.00 fine, literally speaking, I had racked up in late fees which had been stewing in my account all these moons, and got my fix of nepenthe.

This visit I returned home with Tithe by Holly Black and The Onion Girl by Charles DeLint. I just barely have touched on the latter, but I devoured the former in one evening and shortly after did the same with its sequel Ironside.

Black's two novels were just what I was seeking for my recently re-instituted drug habit and as an added bonus provided the brief intellectual satisfaction of being familiar with the fairylore references sprinkled throughout. They were enjoyable in supplying my desired escape, but beyond reveling in the fantasy (Roiben is as drool-worthy as Edward as a male protanganist), I wasn't very compelled by Black's portrayal of faeries. For the most part I felt the faeries were far too human in their actions and squabbles. There is an effort in the books to suggest that the Unseelie Court is not solely comprised of caricatures of villainy and that there is also kindness and wisdom in that realm, as well as treachery and deceit in the opposing Seelie Court, and those who at first seem friends are foes (or vice versa) but I don't feel like that message really saturates deeply into the core of the story.

The faerie character that felt the most true to me was the Kelpie. His "evil" nature seemed to be borne of a fierce, yet innocent fascination with human perishing rather than the contrived malevolence shown by much of the Unseelie Court in the novels who seemed more akin to classic human villains of comic books and cinema, those who know right from wrong and choose their path accordingly: "I wonder about death. I who may never know it. It looks so much like ecstasy, the way they open their mouths as they drown, the way their fingers dig into your skin. Their eyes wide and startled as they thrash in your hands as though with an excess of passion."

Yet, the character of Thistlewitch offers some profound statements on Faery:
So much focus on the egg — it is life, it is food, it is answer to a hundred riddles — but look at its shell. The secrets are writ on its walls. Secrets lie in the entrails of things, in the dregs.

Glamour is the stuff of illusion, but sometimes if deftly woven, it can be more than a mere disguise. Fantastical pockets can actually hold baubles, an illusionary umbrella can protect one from the rain, and magical gold can remain gold, at least until the warmth of the magician's hand fades from the coins.
From these tidbits you can sense Black actually does have a real feel for the Otherworldly, but I suppose it's hard to compose a novel where you can neatly tie in all the loose ends at the end of a few chapters if you're really trying to convey the depth and complexity of Faery (and probably more difficult to market, I imagine).

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